Voting Rights

The Fight for Voters’ Rights Is a Necessary Interruption

“Forward together, not one step back” were the chants heard in every space we entered while we marched for voters’ rights in Winston-Salem, North Carolina last month. On July 13, Young People For (YP4) community college consultant Lela Ali, African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC) administrative assistant Jasmine Bowden, and I participated in the Mass Moral Monday march and rally hosted by the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP to share our voices and energy in the fight against the 2013 North Carolina law (H.B. 589) that advocates have called “the worst voter suppression law in the country.”

Community and religious leaders performed sit-ins three years ago in the North Carolina State Senate resulting in arrests opposing the voter suppression law. One month later, the North Carolina NAACP and Rosanell Eaton filed a complaint in federal district court due to the bill’s violations under the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. This history was uplifted by North Carolina NAACP State President Reverend William Barber, II – who is also an AAMLC member – at an ecumenical service at Union Baptist Church Sunday evening. He gave a great sermon titled “Necessary Interruption,” saying that allies and activists are being called to disrupt our nation in order to dismantle the systems of oppression that plague our country and leave behind countless black deaths with little consequences. He spoke on the need for Medicare expansion, policy changes like gun laws and criminal justice reforms, and economic empowerment for marginalized communities.  The North Carolina NAACP v. McCrory lawsuit, which challenges the provisions of embedded in H.B. 589, is one of those necessary interruptions of justice.

With a fiery ending to our first night in Winston-Salem, we were excited for the full day of teach-ins that occurred the next morning. We were hosted by Goler Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church and engaged in various topics from ‘Racial Violence & Criminal (In)Justice’ to ‘Building Coalitions to Sustain a Social Justice Movement.’ Many of our conversations were focused around allyship, direct action, and legal support to dismantle systems of inequity in local communities. We had the opportunity during our lunch break to meet with members of the Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network and ministerial leaders (AAMLC) from People For the American Way Foundation.

Later that day, we headed over to a rally and march only a few blocks away. At this time, the weather had reached its peak of 93 degrees, but this did not minimize the crowd of over 600 supporters. Music welcomed us and speakers from across the country greeted us with boisterous calls to action as they prepared us to take to the streets and rally for voters’ rights. We gathered our signs and water bottles and followed the crowd through the streets of downtown Winston-Salem as we chanted, “Forward together, not one step back!” and “What do you want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” We were escorted by local police while onlookers from the side streets clapped and cheered us on. Music continued to serenade us as young and old, black and white supporters joined hands to dance in solidarity for justice and equality around voting rights. It was a magical experience that could only be felt in that moment. We walked back to our cars after the march not concerned with the sweltering weather or the sweat staining our clothes and faces. We were excited to be a part of history and exercise our rights to march and protest.

The lawsuit appealing H.B. 589 may not be resolved right away, but activists and allies will continue to take to the internet and streets to uplift the voices of marginalized communities whose rights are violated by those who were elected to serve an array of constituents – black, brown, and white. We will continue to interrupt the notion that young people can’t participate in the electoral process. We will align ourselves with the interests of those who fight for equality and human rights. The fight for voters’ rights is a necessary interruption in the face of injustice.

PFAW Foundation

The Voting Rights Act: Yesterday and Today

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 by President Lyndon Baines Johnson. The Act, which passed then and has passed since with strong bipartisan support, provided necessary protections from discriminatory voting practices by Southern states aimed at African Americans. That was yesterday. Today's VRA is barely recognizable.

Yesterday, protection was needed against poll taxes (barred in federal elections with the ratification of the 24th Amendment), literacy taxes, and things like “white primaries” in Texas. Today protection is needed against voter identification laws, purging of voting rolls, the disenfranchisement of voting rights for formerly incarcerated persons, big money in politics, and redistricting.

Yesterday, Jim Crow was to have retired in 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also signed by President Johnson. Today Jim Crow is “James Crow, PhD,” – CEO of the prison industrial complex, instigator of the war on women and card carrying, dues paying member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), determined to re-define democracy in this country.

Yesterday, 50 years ago on March 7, 1965, courageous women and men were a part of a nonviolent march attempting to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which became known as “Bloody Sunday.” Five months later the Voting Rights Act was signed. 

Today, 50 years later I stand here in Dallas with Ambassador Andrew Young, Martin Luther King, III, officers, clergy, laity, and Dr. James Perkins, President of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. at its 54th annual conference, the convention of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with great clarity and without doubt that the Voting Rights Act of yesterday is still needed in its fullness today!  

Yesterday, on November 22, 1963, here in Dallas at the Dealey Plaza, John F. Kennedy was assassinated and then Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson was sworn in as this country’s 36th president. Blood and tears of Kennedy and the nonviolent marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge were mingled at the raising of a pen to try to finish what Kennedy started - the righting of a wrong. Today, blood and tears of the Emmanuel Nine were mingled in the lowering of the confederate flag on the grounds of the South Carolina state capital.

Yesterday, under the Johnson administration, his “Great Society” vision for America, we got Medicare and Medicaid (also 50 this month), a ban on race discrimination in public facilities, the War on Poverty, and the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act. Today, we still must march for Medicaid expansion, an end to racial profiling and gender and sexual identity discrimination, for comprehensive immigration reform. And 50 years later we still must fight for the protection of our right to vote.

We are here in Texas on this historic day, the same state that immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder on August 22, 2013, passed one of the country’s most oppressive, restrictive voter identification laws (SB14) at the time and was charged with violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. 

We are here knowing from the yesterdays it is not a matter of “if” someone will test the voting laws of the land. Today it’s just a matter of “when.” Until we get to that place of protection, of security where rights will not, can no longer be denied, “let us march on,” educate, motivate, advocate, register and yes vote “till victory is won.”

PFAW

People For the American Way Foundation Applauds FL Supreme Court for Striking Down Gerrymandered Districts

Today, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Republican-drawn gerrymandered districts in Florida that dilute the African American vote must be redrawn because they violate the anti-gerrymandering state Constitutional amendments passed by the voters.

People For the American Way Foundation's African American Ministers Leadership Council applauds the ruling, calling it a major step forward for fair representation in Florida. African American Ministers Leadership Council member Elder Lee Harris of Mount Olive Primitive Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL issued the following statement in response to the court’s decision:

“In striking down the gerrymandered districts in Florida that Republicans created to favor themselves by purposefully diluting the African American vote, our state Supreme Court affirmed the principal that all people, no matter the color of their skin or their political beliefs, deserve fair representation in our democratic system.

“Fairness in our electoral system has always been central to the Civil Rights movement. We fight hard day in and day out to ensure that our government upholds the rights of African Americans and all people, and today’s ruling brings us one step closer to equal voting rights for our community.”

###

GOP targets Latinos’ ability to vote

This piece by People For the American Way Political Coordinator Carlos A. Sanchez originally appeared in Fox News Latino.

Even as a diverse coalition of Americans unite around the principle that voting rights are an essential American principle that needs to be protected, the Republican Party remains firmly committed to doing the opposite. Their continued push for policies that make it more difficult for people to vote disproportionately affects minority and young voters.

Republicans – including leading Presidential candidates – have for years been pushing initiatives that make it harder to vote. Jeb Bush supports states’ efforts to enact voter ID laws, and as governor, he restricted early voting and infamously purged 12,000 eligible voters before the 2000 presidential election. Marco Rubio asked, “What’s the big deal?” with voter ID laws. Scott Walker enacted what has been described as “one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the country.”

Voter ID laws systematically target Latinos’ and other minorities’ ability to vote. In 2012, measures to restrict voting could have affected over 10 million Latino voters. A Brennan Center for Justice study reported, “In Colorado, Florida, and Virginia, the number of eligible Latino citizens that could be affected by these barriers exceeds the margin of victory in each of those states during the 2008 presidential election.”

And it’s no accident that these laws disproportionately affect Latinos. A separate study from last year found “a solid link between legislator support for voter ID laws and bias toward Latino voters, as measured in their responses to constituent e-mails.” And yet another study that was released earlier this year found that even in states without voter ID laws, Latinos were targeted: “Election officials themselves also appear to be biased against minority voters, and Latinos in particular. For example, poll workers are more likely to ask minority voters to show identification, including in states without voter identification laws.”

Some Republicans have explicitly made known their intentions of suppressing Latino and African-American voters in order to win elections. Over 30 years ago, ALEC-founder and co-founder of the Heritage Foundation Paul Weyrich spoke plainly:  “I don’t want everybody to vote…As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” Republican after Republican has continued in his footsteps: An Ohio GOP County Chair stated he supports limits on early voting because, “I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban – read African-American – voter-turnout machine.” Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai believed voter ID laws would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” Former GOP Precinct Chair Don Yelton used the “n” word as he tried to deny that a voter ID law in North Carolina was racist (and he explained that “the law is going to kick the Democrats in the butt”). Conservative activist and notoriously anti-immigrant Phyllis Schlafly said, “The reduction in the number of days allowed for early voting is particularly important because early voting plays a major role in Obama’s ground game.” Schlafly’s Eagle Forum endorsed Marco Rubio in his run for Senate (here’s a lovely picture of the two of them) and applauded Scott Walker for his opposition to legal immigration.

The Republican response to the growing power of minority voters could not be clearer: shut them out of the election process. Under the guise of fighting voter fraud, despite a striking absence of evidence that fraud exists, Republican-led chambers across our nation have moved in concert to restrict access through the polls for political reasons. It’s that simple.

What’s even more upsetting is to hear a group who claims to represent the best interests of a community choose to ignore the facts in favor of their funder’s agenda.  Daniel Garza, executive director of the Libre Iniative, said he’s fine with voter ID laws and that he doesn’t think Republicans are trying to suppress the Latino vote. Libre is a Koch-funded GOP shadow group that time and again turns its back on the Latino community – for example, Libre supported Republican candidates who opposed immigration reform in 2014. Garza’s support for voter ID laws is yet another instance of him and Republicans supporting a policy that’s devastating to Latinos.

It’s time for the Republican Party to end their campaign against voting rights—and for people like Daniel Garza to stop giving them cover when they do it.

Carlos A. Sanchez is the Coordinator of Political Campaigns for People For the American Way.

PFAW

Maryland Governor Vetoes Important Voting Legislation

Last Friday Maryland Governor Larry Hogan vetoed a bill that would allow formerly incarcerated persons to regain the right to vote upon release from prison. The bill had passed through Maryland’s General Assembly with a significant majority. Hogan’s veto sustains current Maryland law, which prohibits people from voting until they have completed their entire sentence – including parole and probation.

This decision impacts approximately 40,000 Marylanders who live, work, and pay taxes in the state. The bill would have both supported formerly incarcerated persons in the reintegration process and addressed the systemic disenfranchisement of ex-offenders. As Maryland Delegates Cory McCray and Alonzo Washington put it:

In representative democracy, the right to vote is a fundamental interest. When folks have their access to the ballot box restricted, they lose their ability to have a voice in the decision making process.

PFAW advocates in Maryland, and members of PFAW’s African American Ministers In Action, have been organizing with supporters to restore full voting rights to formerly incarcerated persons. They called on local community leaders and state representatives to promote this important cause.

Hogan’s decision is deeply disappointing and disproportionately marginalizes people of color, continuing a legacy of racially discriminatory ex-offender laws. It highlights how harmful the power to veto can be in the wrong hands. But the fight for voting rights for all is far from over, and activists in Maryland and across the country will continue to push to ensure that fundamental democratic rights are protected.

PFAW

Right-Wing Pundit: Bring Back Literacy Tests For Voting!

In a column for the National Review on Tuesday, Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies proposed requiring formerly incarcerated people to pass what is essentially a literacy test in order to regain their right to vote.

Krikorian praised Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s recent veto of a bill expanding voting rights for ex-felons but added that conservatives should give “more thought” to the issue of reenfranchising formerly incarcerated people, who because of disparities in the criminal justice system are disproportionately African American.

His idea: requiring ex-felons to pass the same citizenship test in order to regain their right to vote that immigrants pass in order to become citizens:

[G]iven that such a large share of, especially, our black fellow citizens is formally disenfranchised because of past criminality, it behooves conservatives for both policy and political reasons to give the issue of re-enfranchisement more thought. One approach that might work as a policy matter in politically reintegrating those released felons who are interested — and also send a message of openness to the penitent — would be to follow the example of naturalization of immigrants.

While the reasons differ, both felons and resident foreigners are excluded from participation in political life. The way foreigners overcome this exclusion is by ceasing to be foreigners through acquisition of U.S. citizenship. They do this by passing a basic test (probably a little too basic) on U.S. history and civics and by demonstrating (in most cases) a basic ability to read, write, and understand English. Once they swear the Oath of Allegiance, they are enfranchised as citizens of the United States.

This process, he writes, would allow ex-felons “moral readmission to the political community” and show potential employers that those who have passed “might be a cut above the average ex-con”:

Following this model for released felons would have a number of benefits. It would send the message that re-enfranchisement is not merely a matter of paperwork but of a moral readmission to the political community. It would teach some elementary civics and history that the ex-cons probably never learned in school. And if accompanied by a certificate of some kind, it could signal to potential employers that the bearer might be a cut above the average ex-con.

But liberals won’t like his idea of reinstating literacy tests, Krikorian says, because “they don’t particularly like America” so they don’t want anybody learning civics:

The lefty groups pushing to accelerate and simplify re-enfranchisement won’t like this for at least two reasons: Their goal is electing more Democrats, pure and simple, and anything that might stand in the way is unacceptable. And more fundamentally, they don’t particularly like America, and requiring a victim of The Man to pass a history test not written by Howard Zinn is repellent.

“Selma” Release Offers Great Opportunity to Organize Around Civil Rights

On May 5, “Selma” – the award-winning film chronicling the voting rights movement and its violent opposition – will be released on DVD. And while this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the marches from Selma to Montgomery that culminated in the signing of the Voting Rights Act, the fight to ensure that all Americans have equal access to the voting booth continues today. Voter suppression still threatens many Americans’ ability to cast a ballot, and we are still in dire need of a fix for the Supreme Court’s gutting of the VRA in the 2013 Shelby County decision.

“Selma” is an important film for all progressives, and its release presents a great organizing and activism opportunity for voting rights activists. The film’s creators have put together this guide for hosting a “Selma Salon” – a watch party that brings friends, family, neighbors, or colleagues together to talk about and mobilize around civil rights. If you’re interested in hosting your own Selma Salon, check out the guide for tips and discussion ideas.

If you are a teacher (or have a teacher in your life), the Selma4Students campaign is giving every high school in the U.S. a free copy of “Selma” on DVD, along with a companion study guide to help use the film as an educational tool. Learn more at Selma4Students.com.  

PFAW Foundation

Larry Pratt: Obama Only Nominates 'Ruthless' People Who Will Steal Elections For Democrats

Gun Owners of America’s Larry Pratt joined VCY America’s “Crosstalk” program on Tuesday to discuss the then upcoming vote on the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be the U.S. attorney general, telling host Jim Schneider that President Obama nominated Lynch — who was confirmed by the Senate this afternoon — because she was “willing to be as ruthless as he.” 

“I’ll give President Obama one thing,” Pratt said. “In all the appointments he’s made that I’m aware of, unlike Republican presidents who have appointed people because they played golf with them, or because somebody said something nice about them among the elite, President Obama has only appointed, to my knowledge, people who are willing to be as ruthless as is he. That explains Eric Holder. That explains Loretta Lynch, who is an Obama appointee as U.S. attorney in New York.”

When Schneider noted with scorn that “Lynch views voter ID laws as being racist,” Pratt said that opposition to such voting restrictions is part of Obama’s “ruthless” attempt to steal elections for Democrats, which will eventually lead to the Republican Party dying out.

“If they have to deal with photo voter ID, they lose, because it makes it much more difficult to steal elections,” he said. “And in all too many cases, the Democrats have been able to win only because of election fraud. And that’s why they are so bitterly resisting photo voter ID. That is a very, very key issue. And when I hear Republicans saying that ‘well, you know, it’s kind of embarrassing for us to be continually opposing that,’ I guess they’re suggesting it makes us look racist, what they’re saying is, they’re okay with the demise of the Republican Party in about 10 years.”

 

Maryland Passes Bill Bolstering Voting Rights for Formerly Incarcerated People

Today the Maryland legislature passed a bill that would allow people to regain the right to vote as soon as they are released from prison. The legislation rights a wrong in current Maryland law, which denies people voting rights until their entire sentence has been completed, including probation and parole. Without this bill, thousands of formerly incarcerated Marylanders — many of whom are people of color — will continue to be needlessly forced to stay home on Election Day.

PFAW activists in Maryland and members of PFAW’s African American Ministers In Action have been working with allies to help change this, calling their state representatives and urging them to support the immediate restoration of voting rights.

Disenfranchising those who have served their time in prison hampers the process of reintegration and shamefully blocks thousands of Americans from participating in elections. It worsens the discrimination already faced by formerly incarcerated people — who pay taxes, work, and contribute to their communities — and it weakens our democracy.

Passage of this bill is a big step forward in the movement for voting rights for all. Now it’s up to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to sign it and help make the state’s democratic process as fair and accessible as possible.
 

PFAW

Supreme Court’s Denial of Wisconsin Voting Rights a Motivator for Millennials

The following is a guest post by Zachary Koop, a 2014 Young People For Fellow.

This past Monday, the US Supreme Court made a troubling decision: it rejected an appeal to overturn Wisconsin’s voter ID law, considered one of the strictest in the nation. In so doing, the justices paved the way for other states to prohibit eligible voters from casting ballots.

As a young, progressive Wisconsin student, my peers and I share the sentiment that our voices are being attacked by Wisconsin’s recent voter ID law. Indeed, this policy disproportionately impacts young voters, especially youth of color. Among voters between the ages of 18-29, 17.3 percent of black youth and 8.1 percent of Latino youth were unable to vote because of inadequate identification, compared to 4.7 percent of white youth. 

Governor Walker claims that subjugation of Wisconsinites is not the intent, but it is unquestionably the impact. This policy threatened to prevent 300,000 Wisconsinites from voting. Inclusion should be an American ideal, but that is clearly not the case today.

This attack on the voting rights is just one example of how the Right is further disenfranchising historically marginalized communities across this country. But despite their intent, these moves are also mobilizing millennials to demand that our democracy include us. While complex legal and legislative processes often make us feel frustrated and powerless, we understand we need to claim our place at the voting booth. As the largest, most diverse and most progressive demographic in history, we have the power to alter the policy and political landscapes in substantial ways – and we’re already doing it.

Millennials are advancing change across the country. I found my own place in the progressive movement thanks to programs like People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For (YP4) Fellowship. Through YP4’s Vote and Courts Matter programs, I learned how to organize my peers, mobilize voters, and came to understand just how important the courts are to advancing (or dismantling) progressive policies.

Because of YP4’s support, this past fall at UW-La Crosse I passed policies through my campus’ student government that enfranchised students during the 2014 midterm elections. By requiring the administration to issue free student IDs compliant with the voter ID law to all students who requested one, running voter registration drives, and more, we helped ensure that 10,000 students could cast ballots during the election cycle. We are now creating a campus voter registration system that is easily accessible to all students and plan to share our tactics with surrounding state universities to make voting more inclusive and widespread amongst students.

Nothing is more voice-squelching than voter ID laws, an economically inefficient policy that marginalizes youth and other minorities. The Supreme Court’s decision is a call to action for Wisconsin millennials to realize that justice does not advocate for itself and that we must incorporate courts activism in our fight for civil rights.

PFAW Foundation

Obama Supports Mandatory Voting In Order To 'Flood The Nation With Illegal Immigrants' And Destroy The GOP

While speaking last week in Ohio, President Obama was asked his thoughts on how to control the amount of money in politics and spending on campaigns, to which he responded by noting, among other things, that some nations have mandatory voting.

"If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country," Obama said, and that has predictably alarmed conservative activists who notoriously do not want everyone to vote, such as Robert Knight of the American Civil Rights Union and Tim Wildmon of the American Family Association.

Discussing Obama's statement on the "Today's Issues" radio program this morning, Knight and Wildmon both stated that most people who don't vote are uninformed and ignorant and so "we don't want those people voting" in the first place.

Knight went on to claim that Obama is seeking to "flood the nation with illegal immigrants, get them hooked on welfare and then have them vote for Democrats," which Wildmon said was part of a plan to bring about "the death of the Republican Party as we know it":

Signs of Progress on Voting Rights for Formerly Incarcerated Persons

It's fitting that Maryland is showing signs of progress just as its US Senators are reintroducing the Democracy Restoration Act in Congress.
PFAW

Big Win for Voting Rights: Oregon Passes New Motor Voter Law

Yesterday the Oregon Senate passed an expansive new voter registration bill, a significant step forward in the fight to make voting easier, more secure, and more accessible for everyone in the state.

The Oregonian explains how the legislation will work:

Under the measure, driver's license data stretching back to 2013 will be used to begin registering Oregon citizens who aren't already signed up to vote. Elections officials will send a postcard to the prospective new registrants giving them a chance to opt out…. The secretary of state's office has estimated that the measure will add about 300,000 to the voting rolls, which now total just under 2.2 million.

Gov. Kate Brown, who as secretary of state supported the bill as a way to make it easier for low-income people and young people to vote, has promised to sign the measure.

With new barriers to voting taking root across the country and voting discrimination still a persistent problem, it can be easy to believe that our country is only turning back the clock on voting rights. But this win in Oregon underscores the fact that when we work together to make it easier rather than harder to cast a ballot, we can set an example of how to strengthen our democracy.

PFAW

From Selma to Shelby County to Ferguson

This op-ed was originally published at The Huffington Post.

Fifty years ago in Alabama hundreds of peaceful marchers calling for voting rights were violently attacked by state police. Fifty years later Americans from all walks of life are expected to gather this weekend to mark the anniversary of what became known as Bloody Sunday and embrace the spirit for courage, sacrifice and justice of those women and men who marched, were beaten and no doubt underestimated the impact that their bruises would have on future generations.

The events of that day and the tense days and weeks that followed shocked our national consciousness and became a catalyst for passage of what some call the "crown jewel" of the civil rights movement, the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It's a law that held bipartisan support and helped protect countless Americans from discrimination at the ballot box for almost five decades.

Every year since that bloody day we have honored those 600-plus marchers who put their lives on the line in pursuit of basic democratic rights and racial justice. But this year, with a passion as never before, we must do more than just give lip service. This time marchers of today must clearly connect with the purpose in the pain that started in prayer on a Sunday morning and ended on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, with blood and tears in the afternoon. Why? Because as John Legend so eloquently put it last week, "Selma is now."

The shadow of Bloody Sunday is there, nearly two years after a core provision of the Voting Rights Act was gutted by the Supreme Court in the Shelby County case, as we practice patience for Congress to restore and strengthen what was taken away. When our leaders say that they honor those who refused to turn around, will they also commit to restoring the kinds of voting protections that they were marching for?

Today, 40 bills to restrict voting rights have been introduced in states across the country, from voter ID legislation to proposals reducing access to absentee ballots to bills that would make it more difficult for those with past criminal convictions to vote. When our leaders say they honor those who were beaten and bruised with billy clubs 50 years ago, will they also commit to voting against proposed laws that would make it harder for all people to have an equal voice in our democracy? Will they commit to confirming the highly qualified Loretta Lynch, a woman with a strong commitment to civil rights, to lead -- as the first female African American -- the Justice Department in effectively monitoring and enforcing the voting rights laws we already have and those yet to come?

Today, African Americans and Latinos, especially males, endure being routinely profiled, targeted, and attacked by the police. The report released this week from the Department of Justice about policing in Ferguson, Missouri, revealed that 93 percent of arrests were of African Americans, though they make up only 67 percent of the city's population. It showed and confirmed that African Americans in Ferguson were disproportionately likely to have force used against them by the police. When our leaders say they honor those who were hospitalized for peaceful protest 50 years ago, will they also commit to fighting against discrimination and violence at the hands of those meant to serve and protect our communities?

Selma is now, and the march continues. Selma needed protection for voting rights then, and Selma needs protection for voting rights now. Many civil rights leaders, past and present, and even future leaders, will be in Selma this weekend. But thousands of others who can't be there in person will not be excluded from being a part of a new march. Men and women will with great intent make sure every registered voter gets to the polls to vote in every election, will minister with an activist heart to their neighborhoods when violence upends daily life, will use social media as a tool to motivate participation in work aimed at ending all forms of discrimination in the name of religion, and will organize their communities in active opposition when yet another bill is introduced to undermine, restrict, or deny basic civil and human rights.

On the evening of that Sunday, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. informed the media that ministers would march and called for clergy from around the country to join them. He said, "The people of Selma will struggle on for the soul of America, but it is fitting that all Americans help to bear the burden. ... In this way all America will testify to the fact that the struggle in Selma is for the survival of democracy everywhere in our land."

I was not there then, but today as with every day, especially because of the Shelby Counties and the Fergusons, I give thanks and will not forget that struggle. On March 7, 1965, the world watched as nonviolent mothers, fathers, students, workers, faith leaders were beaten, tear gassed and hospitalized. On March 7, 2015, let the world watch as this next generation genuinely honors those who had the courage to take a stand that Bloody Sunday "for the survival of democracy." How? By registering, advocating, teaching, speaking up, marching and continuing their work in pursuit of voting rights, freedom, and justice as if our unseen bruises, our lives, our souls depend on it.

PFAW Foundation

Catherine Engelbrecht: Blame Immigrants For Voter Disenfranchisement

Catherine Engelbrecht, head of the “voter fraud” vigilante group True the Vote, testified this morning at a hearing on the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be U.S. attorney general. Engelbrecht discussed her claims that she was targeted by the IRS, but also criticized Attorney General Eric Holder for his work protecting voter rights.

Engelbrecht said she was “extremely disappointed” to hear comments from Lynch acknowledging that voter ID laws are meant to suppress minority voter turnout and applauding the Justice Department’s work protecting voting rights. (Lynch was merely acknowledging the reality: a federal judge in Texas, for instance, found that proponents of one such voter ID law “were motivated, at the very least in part, because of and not merely in spite of the voter ID law's detrimental effects on the African-American and Hispanic electorate.”)

She added that critics of voter suppression laws have it all wrong and that “the most significant voter disenfranchisement threat currently facing our country” is President Obama’s executive actions deferring deportation for some undocumented immigrants, whom she implied would illegally register to vote.

Engelbrecht has previously criticized a bipartisan effort to restore the Voting Rights Act as a “move toward race-based segregation” because it ensured federal oversight for areas with a history of disenfranchising minority voters.

Engelbrecht left out of her remarks a line in her official prepared testimony alleging that Holder has “created a radical, racialist agency that metes out social justice on an as needed basis to promote the advancement of a progressive agenda.”

J. Christian Adams Attacks Loretta Lynch For Acknowledging That Structural Racism Exists

The Senate Judiciary Committee held its first hearing today on Loretta Lynch’s nomination to be U.S. attorney general, which Senate Republicans mostly used as an opportunity to attack current Attorney General Eric Holder and to try to extract promises from Lynch that she would break course from Holder on issues like immigration enforcement.

But it might be tough for Lynch to completely appease Holder’s critics on the Right, who have repeatedly attacked the attorney general for working to fight racially discriminatory voting laws and acknowledging racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

In fact, J. Christian Adams, a former Justice Department official who has become one of Holder’s most prominent critics on the Right, attacked Lynch today for her statements implying that structural racism exists in areas like voting rights and law enforcement.

“I think that Lynch buys into this same grievance industry about structural racism in the United States, about how minorities cannot get a fair shake ever, that the system is stacked against them, that it’s a collectivist, anti-individual approach to things,” Adams warned the American Family Association’s Sandy Rios.

“I think that Lynch is going to sound a lot like an Eric Holder mini-me when it comes to election issues and voter ID,” he said.

Earlier in the interview, Adams discussed an article he co-wrote with the Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky yesterday urging Republicans, as he told Rios, to use the Lynch hearings to “extract course corrections out of the Justice Department.”

In particular, Adams wants the Justice Department to stop hiring attorneys who have previously provided legal representation to terror suspects. (Similar attacks on DOJ attorneys by Liz Chaney in 2010 were condemned by a group of Bush administration officials as “shameful” and “unjust.”)

“We’ve had an attorney general who has turned toward lawyers who have worked for Al Qaeda terrorists, who were their attorneys, to then work at the Justice Department,” Adams said.

“That’s how crazy it’s gotten in the last six years, where it seems that one of the top qualifications to become a lawyer working for the Justice Department is that you used to work at Al Qaeda, or for Al Qaeda detainees.”

Adams demanded that Republicans “get a commitment out of [Lynch] to stop catering to this far-left-wing legal world that hates U.S. foreign policy, that hates detainee policy, that hates Gitmo, that that hates our war on terror.”

GOP Picks 'Voter Fraud' Conspiracy Theorist, 'Constitutional Sheriff' To Testify In Loretta Lynch Hearing

The Senate Judiciary Committee has released a list of the witnesses who will testify at this week's hearings on the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be attorney general, and two of them signal the GOP’s intention to tie Lynch to their criticism of Attorney General Eric Holder’s efforts to combat racial discrimination in voting rights and law enforcement.

Among them is Catherine Engelbrecht, a Tea Party activist who founded the group True the Vote to promote the myth of widespread voter fraud and who has clashed with Holder over his defense of voting rights, or what she calls his “radical, racialist assault on voters' rights across America.”

Also included is David Clarke, the sheriff of Milwaukee county, who has become a Tea Party hero for his criticism of protests of racial inequality in the justice system following a series of police killings of unarmed black men.

Both have become prominent Tea Party figures by voicing the line that racial inequality no longer exists in the U.S. and that the Justice Department’s efforts to stop voter suppression laws and combat discrimination in the criminal justice system are themselves racist. The Right cast Holder as the primary villain in this narrative, and prominent Holder critics such as the Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky are using some of the same arguments to attack Lynch.

Engelbrecht’s attitude toward voting rights protections was perhaps most clearly illustrated with her reaction to a bipartisan bill meant to restore the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court gutted it in 2013.

In an email to supporters, Engelbrecht claimed that the effort to restore the Voting Rights Act — one of the great achievements of the Civil Rights Movement — was in fact a “terrible race based bill” that would “exclude millions of Americans from full protection of the law — based solely on the color of their skin.” She fumed that restoring federal voting rights oversight to areas with a history of racial discrimination in election laws should be called the “Voting Rights Segregation Act.”

Engelbrecht has worked to drum up support for harsh voting restrictions that disproportionately affect racial minorities by hyping fears of widespread “voter fraud” and recruiting armies of volunteers to root out suspected fraud in their communities. These efforts haven’t exactly uncovered the evidence they’ve been looking for, although they have created hassles for legitimate voters targeted by True the Vote volunteers.

Sheriff Clarke, meanwhile, has been a leading conservative voice against protests against police brutality and racial inequalities in the criminal justice system, and has expressed outrage that President Obama and Holder have expressed some support for the protests. Clarke, who is African American, went on Fox News in November to accuse the president of fueling “racial animosity between people” by supporting the protests and even suggested that Obama was encouraging protesters to riot “with a wink and a nod."

He also contended that Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager who was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, was a “coconspirator in his own demise” because he “chose thug life.”

Clarke has ties to the radical “constitutional sheriffs” movement who believe that county sheriffs are the highest law enforcement officers in the land and have the power to defy federal laws and arrest federal officials for enforcing laws that they believe are unconstitutional. In 2013, Clarke accepted the “Constitutional Sheriff of the Year” award from the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association after he had made headlines by running radio ads encouraging his constituents to arm themselves rather than rely on calling 911 in an emergency.

Other witnesses signal the intention of Republicans on the Judiciary Committee to focus on what they argue are constitutional oversteps by Holder. Engelbrecht claims that the IRS has targeted her since she started her political activism and fellow witness Sharyl Attkinson claims that Holder’s Justice Department hacked into her personal computer. (A computer security expert reviewing Attkinson’s evidence for Media Matters said it looked more like a malfunction caused by a frozen backspace key.)

Kris Kobach: 'Affirmative Action Culture' Made Obama A Narcissist

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the influential architect of anti-immigrant and voter suppression measures throughout the country, said on his radio program this week that President Obama was shaped by an “affirmative action culture” that handed him achievements that “he was not winning…himself.”

Kobach spent a good part of the Sunday night program discussing President Obama’s election night press conference, where he said that he heard the concerns and frustration of the voters who sat the election out, which Kobach took to mean that Obama had made those nonparticipating voters into an imaginary “communist” voting bloc.

In response, a caller shared her theory that the president thinks “everything is all about him” and “is mentally incapable, I think it’s rendered him somewhat handicapped in his ability to process things” in a logical manner.

“You know, I wonder if goes all the way back to his upbringing, where, and I’m thinking more in terms of college and law school, where the affirmative action culture just lavished praise upon him and he could do no wrong,” Kobach responded. “And he got into Harvard Law despite not being that impressive a student and once there, he became law review editor because, ‘Oh my goodness, we have this wonderful student.’ He was not winning it himself, but he was told that he was great from the moment he set foot.”

Later in the program, Kobach lashed out at an Al Jazeera story exposing the deep flaws in a national program he has coordinated to help states purge their voter rolls of voters who they believe no longer live in the state.

“Let’s get down to bare bones here,” he said, “ultimately, some Americans care enough to vote and some Americans don’t.”

Calling Al Jazeera "a left-wing crackpot network in addition to being apologists for Islamic extremism,” he mocked the story’s conclusion: “Disenfranchising? Give me a break. Photo ID doesn’t disenfranchise anyone. Taking someone off the voter rolls because they moved from one state to the other and taking them off the first state doesn’t disenfranchise anyone.”

“But this is what the left does. Elections don’t matter to them because now they have this ridiculous, absurd excuse.”

Report: In Key Races, Margin of Victory Came Close to ‘Margin of Disenfranchisement’

In 2012, People For the American Way Foundation published a memo highlighting many of the legislative and administrative tactics states were using to undermine voter participation in elections, all under trumped-up claims of “voter fraud.”

Now according to a new Brennan Center report, recently-enacted restrictive voter laws may have helped tip the scales in the 2014 midterm elections this past Tuesday. A number of states around the country have implemented restrictions to voting, including new voter ID laws, cuts to early voting, and faulty voter purges. These changes have been found to have a negative impact on low-income voters, minority communities and young voters.

As quoted in a Mother Jones article yesterday, report author Wendy Weiser pointed out, "In several key races, the margin of victory came very close to the likely margin of disenfranchisement." One example from the article:

North Carolina Senate: Republican House state speaker Thom Tillis beat incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan by 48,000 votes.

In 2013, North Carolina enacted a law—which Tillis helped write—limiting early voting and same-day registration, which the Justice Department warned would likely depress minority turnout. During the last midterms in 2010, about 200,000 North Carolinians cast their ballots during early voting days that the state's new voting law eliminated.

To read more about the attack on voters and how you can help fight back, check out The Right To Vote section on our website.
 

PFAW Foundation

How 2014's Elections Will Influence 2016's Voting Rights

Voters across the country trying to cast votes in Tuesday’s elections ran into hurdles erected by Republican legislatures, governors and secretaries of state. Along with mechanical glitches and human error — which occurred in states with leaders on both sides of the political spectrum — voters faced new laws and policies that made it harder to vote.

In Alabama, a last-minute decision by the attorney general barred people from using public housing IDs to vote. Voter ID laws in North Carolina and Texas sowed confusion. Georgia lost 40,000 voter registrations, mostly from minorities. In all, the group Election Protection reported receiving 18,000 calls on Election Day, many of them having to do with voter ID laws. The group noted that the flurry of calls represented “a nearly 40 percent increase from 13,000 calls received in 2010.”

In the presidential election year of 2016, it looks unlikely that those problems will subside — especially if Congress fails to restore the Voting Rights Act. The two states that had the closest vote tallies in the last presidential election — Florida and Ohio — will go into the presidential election year with Republicans controlling the offices of governor and secretary of state and holding majorities in their state legislatures.

In Florida, Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who won reelection yesterday, will be able to appoint a secretary of state and will enjoy the support of a veto-proof Republican majority in the state House.

In Ohio, controversial Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted won reelection on Tuesday, along with Gov. John Kasich. They’ll be able to work with a strengthened GOP majority in the state legislature.

In North Carolina, where a Republican legislature and governor have cracked down on voting rights, the GOP held onto its majority. Republican secretary of state candidates in the swing states of Colorado, Iowa and Nevada also won elections yesterday.

Two influential elections for voting rights also took place in states unlikely to be presidential swing states. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a national ringleader for advocates of restrictive voting laws, won reelection. In Arizona, which has been working with Kansas to defend their states' respective tough voting requirements, Republican candidate Michele Reagan also won her contest.

One exception to the trend is Pennsylvania, where Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who backed a harsh voter ID law that has since been struck down in the courts, lost to voting rights supporter Tom Wolf. Although Wolf will contend with a Republican majority in the state legislature, he will be able to appoint a secretary of the commonwealth.

Share this page: Facebook Twitter Digg SU Digg Delicious